‘It’s a real freedom to forgive.’ Exonerated Idaho death-row inmate finally compensated

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After more than 18 years in prison and two decades spent without being formally declared innocent of the charges against him, 72-year-old Charles Fain received a declaration of innocence from the state of Idaho last week and compensation on Thursday.

“Today we say we’re sorry as a society,” said Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, at a press conference at the Statehouse on Thursday.

Ricks and Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, sponsored the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act, which Gov. Brad Little signed into law in March. The act provides compensation from the state for people who serve time in prison in Idaho for crimes they did not commit.

Exonerees will receive $62,000 from the state for each year they spent in prison, while those who served on death row will receive $75,000 per year. For his time served, Fain received nearly $1.4 million on Thursday, according to Andrea Carone, a lawyer with Boise firm Stoel Rives LLP, who worked on Fain’s case pro bono. A second Idaho exoneree, Christopher Tapp, has also received a certificate of innocence and compensation.

“The compensation paid doesn’t restore 20 years of a person’s life,” Ricks said. “But we as a government do what we can to provide some compensation here and to back that up with a sorry that a bad crime was committed against them.”

After being wrongfully convicted for the 1982 sexual assault and murder of a Nampa child, Fain spent 6,745 days on death row, according to a release from the co-director of the Idaho Innocence Project, Greg Hampikian.

“Mr. Fain was in a cell by himself 23 hours every day, pretty much isolation,” said Rick Visser, the first legal director of the Idaho Innocence Project. “One hour a day he could bathe or take a little bit of a walk.”

At one point, in 1991, Fain told the Idaho Statesman that he had been just four days away from the date of his execution before it was delayed. During his imprisonment, he said the date of his execution was scheduled three times.

DNA proved him not a suspect

Fain was released from prison in 2001, after a DNA analysis technique excluded him as a suspect in the killing. When he was released, he was given “a pair of dungarees and a jacket from the prison laundry,” Hampikian said.

In May 2020, police charged a different man, David Dalrymple, with the killing of the child after a recent advancement in DNA examination was able to match his DNA with a hair found at the crime scene.

Despite his ordeal, Fain says he has forgiven the state.

“We’ve forgiven the people that did this to us,” Fain said, referring to himself and other exonerees. “It’s a real freedom to forgive somebody.”

A Vietnam veteran, Fain is one of a small number of people in the nation who have been exonerated after spending time on death row.

“There are more astronauts that have gone into space than are death-row exonerees,” Visser said. “And we have one here in Idaho.”

In the news release, Fain said he hopes to retire, “live quietly” and buy a truck. On Thursday, he told the Statesman he may need to have bypass surgery this summer.

“Just try and (imagine) taking an 18-year chunk out of your life,” Visser said. “Our legal system needs a lot of correcting.”

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